Cerro Pescadores, Pico Risco


By: Sue Holloway, Gary Craig

It was a case of "needing" Pescadores that got Richard Whitcomb and me (Sue) to pick a mutually convenient date and then to get the word out to others to join us. After the 1996 "experience" that Dave Jurasevich's group had (Le. confrontation with the Mexican Army), we felt there would be safety in numbers. With two last minute cancellations, our group of now 10 met at 5:45 a.m. in Calexico. We had five 4WD vehicles and we drove in a caravan through the border crossing and through a very quiet Mexicali.

The primary driving instructions in the latest "Peaks Guide" cannot be followed due to the fact that there is no way to get down to the "good dirt road" that is described at 0. 1 miles S of post 24. Instead turn right just south of post (which is past the Mexican Rod & Gun Club). These driving instructions are accurately noted on the drive-in map in the "Peaks Guide". (Note that, from Highway 5, a high clearance 4WD vehicle is a necessity due to very deep sand.)

We didn't drive all the way to the described parking area due to increasingly deep sand so our hike was a bit longer than described in the "Peaks Guide". (Note: In hindsight we all agreed that we definitely could have made it. Actually the road got better!)

The climb was routine and the route was very competently led by Gary Craig, Richard Whitcomb and Jerry Higgins. Once we had gained the ridge, we climbed carefully as there were numerous areas of loose rock. It was a hot day so we took plenty of breaks to regroup, enjoy the beautiful views, rest and drink. I found myself always looking for Judy Hunimerich at our rest spots because if there was shade, she had found it and I joined her there!

We were all on the summit by 11:40 a.m. where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch. It was a beautiful day and the views from the top were stunning. As reported in other trip reports, the summit register goes back to 1967 and Pescadores appears to be one of the peaks that only those who are intent on finishing the DPS list climb! After an hour break, we posed for our summit photo and then started our descent.

Just as we were during the ascent, we all tried to be careful of rock fall. Unfortunately, there were a couple of incidents but they were minor. They served as a reminder to all of us to be mindful of those below! We also had a couple of scares when two in our party took separate falls. Thankfully, the two hardy climbers evaluated their conditions, determined that any scrapes were superficial and continued on, albeit more carefully.

We were all back at our cars by 3:45 p.m. and we took our time getting ready for the drive out. Gary, Phil Reher and Rich Gnagy were going to continue on to do Pico Risco the next day so we parted company once were all back on Highway 5. Mexicali was busy, busy... it was Saturday late afternoon. The traffic, belching busses, throngs of people, bustling markets and cabs weaving in and out of traffic made the drive through town much more exciting than earlier in the day. After a few wrongs turns, I found the line of traffic waiting to cross the border. The US Border Agent seemed quite puzzled as to why I had climbed Cerro Pescadores and who else had gone with me. I told him my companions were in other vehicles and were someplace behind me in line. He said "I see" but I knew he didn't. He seemed reluctant to merely wave me through but he did.

Other participants not mentioned above were: Tom Hill, George Wysup and Virginia West.

Thanks to all for making it a great "unofficial" DPS trip!!

This is Gary Craig now, continuing the story to Pico Risco. After a bite to eat in Mexicali, our group of now three (myself, Rich Gnagy, and Phil Reher) headed briefly back south and then west for the drive to Canyon de Guadalupe. The driving directions in the DPS Peaks Guide should be amended as follows. When heading west on highway 2, for the last few miles before the turnoff, you have no choice but to drive on the toll road the free ("libre") road no longer exists. Not to worry; near the point mentioned in the guide (kilometer post 27) there is a "retorno" (turnaround) to the eastbound lanes with a sign for Canyon de Guadalupe. Make this U-turn and backtrack east just a few tenths of a mile to yet another sign for the Canyon, right where the dirt road heading south meets the pavement. The next 27 miles are on moderate to severe washboard. Then, a large handmade sign directs you to the Canyon, with one more road junction shortly thereafter. This road ends at a campground in about 7 miles, the last mile or so of which is deteriorated and high clearance (2WD ok) is useful. There is no gas available anywhere nearby; fill up in Calexico.

This campground is amazing! It spreads out on both sides of the creek which emerges from the canyon, with most of the sites on the right (north) side. The Loya brothers, who run the place, charge $15 per car per night. Each campsite has a "hot tub" built from cemented boulders and fed from nearby hot springs. There are also tables, palapas, grills, and plenty of room to spread out at each site. We arrived well after dark of course, but took a quick soak to wash off the dirt from the Pescadores climb before heading to bed.

We started hiking Sunday morning at 6:40 am, with peak looming impressively at the head of the canyon, seemingly not far. There is a trail (constructed for the use of campground patrons) which heads up the canyon, leaving the upper end of the campground on the north side of the creek. It is well marked with large white arrows painted on boulders, and leads easily to the first stream crossing. Note that this is NOT the legendary "old Indian trail" which is difficult to find (so I hear) and leads toward Pico Risco via the next drainage and hills to the south. We basically followed the "route B" from the guide, but the going is slow as nearly the entire route involves boulder scrambling up the wash which passes to the right (north) of the peak. Sometimes the boulders are gigantic, house-sized affairs which necessitate leaving the bottom of the wash but most of the time they are merely huge. With frequent rests and some backtracking we were moving slowly and did not reach the summit until 1:30 p.m. The route through the rocks on the last few hundred yards of the summit ridge is quite devious, and we lost at least an hour right there with wrong turns and general confusion. We had heard so much about the "step across" onto the final summit block, but after the lengthy ordeal of the climb to that point, it seemed anti-climactic. But, we made it! We found no book and only the remains (a lid and broken pieces) of a register canister at the top. We had a very quick lunch and started down.

We came down in 4-1/2 hours what had taken nearly 7 to climb. The flashlights and headlamps came out of our packs for the last few minutes of walking, and after another soak in the hot tub, we headed back to Mexicali, crossed the border, and parted company as Phil and I returned to LA and Rich headed for Indio and the next day to Sacramento. A special commendation will be given to the climber who can find Phil's wallet.

As our AirBus winged its way South from LAX toward Mexico City, I peered out my window and began to ponder the plan that we had developed. The backbone of our strategy was to build-in acclimitization and a couple of weather delay days. We were spending a night in Mexico City at 7,341 feet, a day in Tlachichuca at 8,530 feet, a day near the village of Hidalgo at 12,000 feet, a day at the Piedra Grande hut at 14,100 feet and another day at the beginning of the Jamapa Glacier at 16,000 feet. Now that we were actually underway, I just wondered how the actual events would manifest themselves over the next several days.

Upon arriving at Mexico City we found our way to the Marriot, the Hotel connects directly to the airport terminal. Our biggest problem was moving all our gear from customs to the hotel. The next day, traveling from the Mexico City airport to Tlachichuca was also very easy. The Bus for Puebla leaves directly from the airport terminal and cost $7.00. At Puebla the connecting bus for Tlachichuca cost $2.90. Again our biggest problem was moving all the gear we had. At Tlachichuca, we managed to send word via a young man on a bicycle to Joaquin Canchola Limon's "Friendly Mountain Service " and Senior Limon sent his truck to pick us and our gear up.

We met Joaquin and his family: his daughter, Maribel and his Wife, Guadalupe. I can't say enough good things about Joaquin and his family. They were an absolute delight and were willing to do anything they could to accommodate our needs and our climbing schedule. We were immediately treated like members of the family. Staying with them in Tlachichuca was an absolute pleasure. That night we were next introduced to Guadalupe's cooking which was absolutely delicious. After dinner, we reviewed our transportation schedule, fuel and waters needs with Joaquin and as usual he gave us his "no problem".

When we left, the big news was; the NBL players and owners had agreed to play basketball, Tyson's return to boxing, and the melodrama in Congress of impeaching the president. Upon reaching Tlachichuca, we found that these people were not much interested in this stuff. These peoples' lives evolved around other priorities: their families, the church, and the local community. The reality of hard work in their daily lives could be seen in their faces and on their hands. The big news here was that John Paul II was coming to Mexico! John Paul H's 1979 reference as "Mexico, always faithful" had evolved into a special relationship between him and the Mexican People. The mention of his visit brought many smiles.

Next morning after a great breakfast, we loaded our gear into Joaquin's truck and headed for 12,000'. Joaquin took us to a seldom used camp site at 12,600'. This had great vistas of both Orizaba and the valley below. We were still below the tree line and were able to have a nice fire before turning in for the night. Before Joaquin left to return home for the night, we had asked him to check the weather report for our summit day.

The next day Joaquin arrived in his 4WD Ford truck to take us up to the Piedra Grande hut. He hadn't forgotten our request. On his way he had checked in with the local Indians and had gotten their weather forecast. The Indians don't use such stuff like high pressure, frontal systems, or other technical terms but characterize the weather by what is typical for a month. Their forecast was "Weather-like-May" was actually a good forecast. So there you have it; armed with the official Indian weather forecast, we were now ready to proceed up the mountain.

On arriving at Piedra Grande, the place looked a little bleak, no trees, grass, birds or animals. Otherwise, the Octavio Alvarez Hut was in a fair condition. During our stay, the hut was housing about 18 climbers. Our only major problem was keeping the door closed. With some polite discussion and coaching, we were able to finally keep the door somewhat closed and the cross wind minimized through the night.

The next day we climbed up to 16, 100' and established our high camp. We encountered the most difficult climbing of the trip, negotiating an ice and hard snow band from 15,500' to 16,000'. We settled in our tents early as the sun set and the temperature plummeted. I don't believe anyone got much sleep, just laying in your bag required an elevated respiration rate.

The next day we were up early, but we were all slow getting ready to leave. Things just take longer at 16,000'. Soon we were rest-stepping on the Jamapa Glacier and could see the beginning of a Weather-like-May day in the making as predicted. As the hours passed, we continued up Ruta Espinoza route and could see and occasional puff of smoke and ash from Popo about 100 miles to the west. As I walked up to the summit I felt like a steam locomotive pulling into the station. As I leaned on my ice axe, laboring to catch my breath, and peered down into the huge crater that is invisible from below. As we enjoyed the awesome view of the massive crater and the great vista from the summit, I reflected on our success. I realized that although planning is essential, luck especially with the weather had a lot to do with it.

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of the team members. Joe White (a.k.a. "Jose Blanco") did a great job of route finding on the mountain. The exact location of the summit on the crater rim is difficult to determine from below. Joe was able to lead the team precisely to the summit. Terry Flood did an outstanding job as the team interpreter. Anyone planing a private trip like this needs someone on the team that can communicate with the local people. Sue Holloway (a.k. a. "Mustang Susie") always maintained a positive attitude and kept the teamwork among us guys on track.

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